Monthly Archives: December 2005

Can we have some snow please?

Just a little bit (enough to justify the purchase of three lovely, old wooden sledges for instance). We’re ready and waiting. My kids are watching the special weather forecasts like hawks, we live in approximately the right bit of the country (over in the next county they’re snowed in) and we have a stack of warm clothes, carrots, pieces of coal and so on ready at the back door. Come on!

Tree story

Some really evocative sounds – mostly squelching and chopping, actually – in this lovely Open Country programme on Radio 4 about the astonishing natural and social history of the Oak tree. The producers of the show have gone to the trouble of securing a proper archive for their past programmes so there’s a pretty good chance you’ll actually hear the show when you click, which is as it should be. Amen.

God versus Santa…

As far as my kids are concerned, I believe in Father Christmas but not in God. Over the years, since they started to ask, I’ve spent a fair amount of time constructing complicated responses to various God questions: “no. I don’t believe in God but I think the stories about God and Jesus are important and that we can learn things from them” and “of course I don’t mind if you believe in God – you’re free to make up your own mind” and, “yes, of course there’s nothing wrong with singing about Jesus at school” and so on… (What a load of rubbish. I make myself sick…)

Anyway, with Santa it’s much simpler: “Of course he exists”. “Santa visits every home on the planet in less than 24 hours using magic, obviously” and “Yes. Santa provides all the presents except the ones that have been imperfectly concealed on top of the wardrobe for the last three weeks which were bought by us on his behalf. OK?”

So I’m selective about my imaginary, bearded old geezers. So sue me.

Big bang

We live quite close to the big fire at Buncefield fuel depot (from the top of our village you can see the flames). Like everyone, I’m amazed that so few people were hurt but I find myself thinking about the poor sods who were right there, on site, at 6 O’Clock on Sunday morning. Britain’s most ignored group of workers: the security guards. Dozens of men working twelve hour shifts, men who work alone, watching assets that aren’t theirs and never will be and for minimum wage or thereabouts.

Security guards have been so thoroughly outsourced they’re practically invisible, disowned by the people whose premises they look after and ignored by everyone else. I think it’s a crime to have so alienated such a basic (and often directly customer-facing) business resource as the people who guard your shop or office by essentially dumping them on low-quality employers. I’d like to start a campaign to bring security guards back into the fold and make proper use of the resilience and resourcefulness on show before dawn on Sunday.

On the buses

Routemaster buses on Oxford Street in 2002
The Routemasters are like jellied eels or Hawksmoor Churches or those people who swim in the ponds on Hampstead Heath. They’re eccentric and they say something about London’s weirdness and complexity and also its attachment to worn-out ideas and things. History tells us we won’t miss the old buses as much as we think we will, though. They’ll go the way of smoking carriages on the tube (or that pub on the platform at Sloane Square tube). In a few years they’ll be a folk memory – and besides, the bendy buses are already acquiring their own myths which will smoothly replace Routemaster stories over the next decades (they’re so huge: they’re like two tennis courts joined together. You could film an episode of Strictly Come Dancing in one half easily).

Like most people, what I’ll miss most is the conductors and not only because both my parents were conductors on Routemasters in the 50s. In those days the conductor was very much the junior crew member. Lots of drivers from that period were war-scarred veterans who’d learnt to drive in a tank or a military ambulance or a truck and joined the buses on demob. These men were worldly and full of stories and they often took their young conductors under their wings. My parents still talk with a lot of affection about their various drivers from that period, men who brought the wisdom and stoicism of the battlefield to the buses and weren’t really bothered what jumped-up inspectors and managers had to say, what with having seen off the Nazis and all that.

They’re not all Routemasters, you know. We call them Routemasters now like we call vacuum cleaners ‘hoovers’. Stick your hand out and stop the next bus geek and he’ll tell you that there were loads of other brands of double-decker, half-cab, open-platform buses on the road back then and that, whichever one you worked on, they were all hard work. No proper heating, no power steering, no automatic transmission, nowhere to stow a pram or a suitcase.

Fifteen years ago I went down to the London Transport Museum and bought my Dad an old conductor’s ticket machine for his birthday. It was a thing of beauty: made from shiny aluminium, worn smooth by years of service. It was heavy and had a satisfyingly chunky action (“whizz-whizz-clunk”). Of course, when I gave the thing to him he said: “Never used one of these. This is a model G. Very unreliable. We used the D in my garage”.

He’s good…

Cameron is impressive (although he needs to do something about the hair) but Tuesday’s PMQs left me sort of quietly reassured. Principally, I think, because his ‘consensus’ rhetoric is a gimmick and you can’t reform a political party with a gimmick, no matter how cleverly wired into the zeitgeist that gimmick is.

Cameron can’t dump the ‘ya-boo’ culture of The Commons on his own: reforming Parliament’s adversarial model will require… well… consensus – across party boundaries and across equally bitter internal party divisions. Check back in a year: I’ll bet you a tenner that Cameron’s perfectly reasonable (and very grown-up) consensus idea has been quietly dropped.

Likewise, dragging the Tories back to the political centre and dumping the pensioners who own the party infrastructure and fund its operations is going to be an epic task – equivalent to taking on the left for Blair. Cameron will certainly need his Clause 4 moment, or his Clause 4 issue. My guess: gay marriage. Although – inconveniently – the Labour Government already legalised it, it’s such a potent issue and will so royally wind up the Tory old-timers that I see Cameron and Osborne and the rest of his kitchen cabinet attending lots of gay weddings in the next few months.

I expect a period of explicit and deliberate provocation of the old guard. Cameron can’t achieve his goal without dumping the blue rinse brigade. Item 1 on his ‘reform the party’ to do list is to alienate the hardcore Tory membership so profoundly that they voluntarily leave the party and create a space for the next generation Tories he believes exist. Cameron knows that if, at the end of this parliament, the party looks roughly like it does now (demographically, ethnically), then it’s game over for The Conservatives (which would be interesting, wouldn’t it?).